A different dream

Abbygail Wu discusses her early struggles with her identity and her later successes after being able to express her true self

By Enru Lin  /  Staff reporter

Mon, Jul 29, 2013 - Page 12

Abbygail Wu (吳伊婷) is about to lose her marriage, but as far as she can tell, her life is otherwise fine.

Wu is devoted to her transgender spouse, with whom she forms a united front against the Ministry of Interior, which declared their marriage illegal (see the July 22 Taipei Times, page 12). She likes her job, enjoys a wide circle of friends and is financially self-sufficient in Taipei, the nation’s most expensive city.

“I have been an engineer for almost five years, and my salary is higher than the average college student’s, even though I did not go to college,” Wu told the Taipei Times.

“I have asked my friends, ‘After graduating from college, was it easy to find a job? Are you happy?’ Their answer is no. Then I ask, ‘So why are you at that job?’ They have said to me, ‘I can’t find my true interest. I can’t find a way,’” she said.

A way

But by her parents’ standards, Wu is not the Taiwanese dream.

Born in Hong Kong as a boy, she moved with her family to Taiwan when she was two years old. She was raised as a boy, then came out as transgender in her senior year of high school. As a teenager, she failed class after class.

“I was always that person who didn’t go to lessons. I felt so constricted. There was always only one right answer,” she said.

Her mother and stepfather were bemused, then frustrated, by her academic struggles. When she decided not to go to college, the couple said she was going to have a very rough time.

According to Wu, though, the road after high school was easy going. She first worked odd jobs in restaurants and nightclubs, where some employers refused her based on her “conflicting” appearance. Others offered work without a thought.

Four and a half years ago, Wu found an employer at a local university who was willing to provide training on the job. Today she writes code for digital signage.

“Because I’m interested in the field, I want to put in the time and do the research and that can help me go far... Interests can, in fact, become sustenance, like rice for eating,” she said, referencing a Mandarin colloquialism.

“I still haven’t found a chance to say that to my parents.”

Say nothing

Wu last spoke to her mother on the phone three years ago, and believes that her two brothers, now 15 and 18 years old, have been urged to forget her.

“All transgender children encounter this problem. They come out and meet resistance from their parents. The degree of opposition varies. My parents listened to a bit of what I said and became very upset.”

But for Wu, any reaction is better than none. These days, her parents and their generation are part of a shrinking demographic that still stares at her long jet-black hair. Her contemporaries — the twenty and thirty-somethings — look away and say nothing.

“They don’t remark on it because they don’t really understand why I look like this. And because they don’t understand, they don’t care,” she said.

“They just go to work, and do what they’re supposed to do and go home and sleep and they don’t care about anything else,” said Wu, who believes that this mindset is a holdover from the Martial Law era and Taiwan’s rote-based educational system.

To her, living the unexamined life is risky anywhere, but is disastrous in places where social mores do not match the rules of global economic competition.

“My parents told me to go to college and to graduate school, and to quit playing with computers if I wanted to succed,” she said.

Meanwhile, other Taiwanese youth were promised a good life if they fulfilled the same conditions, according to Wu.

“Nothing the older generation told us is proving true,” she said.